Over the last two years here at Philadelphia magazine I’ve had the freelance opportunity of a liftetime, given the leeway and the freedom to craft a somewhat different method of covering your favorite NBA team. I knew I was at the right spot when, in my first week, I asked Brian Howard, my editor at the time, whether I could run an article talking about the Sixers’ Expected Effective Field Goal Percentage. Likely not knowing what the stat was, but without blinking an eye, Brian gave me the green light and let me run with it.
That kind of flexibility allowed me to experiment in ways that, quite honestly, were the reason I reached out to Philadelphia magazine in the first place. Admiring the unique gem Sheil Kapadia and Tim McManus had built with Birds 24/7, I viewed Philadelphia as the place that I could build something similar. From the moment I came aboard my editors, from Brian to Tim Haas to Tom McGrath, put their faith in me, and gave me all the freedom and flexibility I could ever hope in looking to craft something unique. For that, I cannot thank them enough.
You can continue to follow me on twitter, @DerekBodnerNBA, to keep up with my thoughts on the Sixers and the NBA.
Joel Embiid (Cal Sport Media/Associated Press) and Ben Simmons (Steven Freeman/NBAE/Getty Images) were acquired as a result of the Sixers’ rebuild. Was it worth it?
The Philadelphia 76ers — winners of 11 of their last 16 games, sitting just 4.5 games of the playoffs, and, most importantly, led by the kind of generational superstar that promises to make them relevant for the foreseeable future — have started to capture the imagination of the Philadelphia sports fan in a way almost nobody could have predicted just a few short months ago.
Much of that excitement is predictably centered around Joel Embiid, the third-year rookie taking the NBA by storm. Embiid is averaging 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 2.5 blocked shots per game, despite having his playing time limited to just 25.4 per contest as he works his way back from two missed seasons because of an injury to the navicular bone in his right foot. Despite the limited playing time Embiid has showcased the diversity of skills that could, perhaps should, make him one of the best two-way players of his generation.
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Joel Embiid was not selected as an All-Star reserve | Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Last night the NBA announced the 7 reserves for the Eastern Conference All-Star team. Joel Embiid was not one of them.
Fellow Eastern Conference coaches selected John Wall, Kemba Walker, Isaiah Thomas, Kyle Lowry, Paul George, Kevin Love, and Paul Millsap to round out the All-Star roster.
Embiid came in 3rd among all Eastern Conference frontcourt players in the fan vote, with his 922,714 votes narrowly edging out Kevin Love‘s 909,488. In previous years, this would have earned Embiid a starting spot on the All-Star team.
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Joel Embiid has captured the attention of Philadelphia sports fans. | Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
“I’ve said many times you don’t want it to be a coach driven formula. Ultimately it needs to be player coached team, a player driven formula. The players determine the behavior. The players determine the culture. Where somebody will say that’s just not good enough. That’s not how we act. That’s not how we guard. We show up on time. That’s not respectful. Whatever it is. …And through discussion I have with Joel I’m trying to achieve that.”
— Sixers head coach Brett Brown, speaking to the media before the season.
That statement by head coach Brett Brown, at a media luncheon with reporters prior to the start of the season, seemed patently absurd at the time, made less than a year after Joel Embiid was the subject of a scathing report from Sports Illustrated alleging chronic insubordination, immaturity, and a ballooning midsection.
Rather than have Embiid lead the franchise, conventional wisdom said at the time, Embiid needed to have a strong personality alongside him to show him the way.
Under normal circumstances, that may have been true. But Embiid is no normal 22-year-old rookie.
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Left: Joel Embiid (Cal Sport Media/Associated Press); right: Ben Simmons (Steven Freeman/NBAE/Getty Images)
Ben Simmons wears the face of a kid getting dragged to Sunday school when he’d rather settle in for a Call of Duty marathon with friends. He looks the part, too, a neatly buttoned white dress shirt and skinny black pants clinging to his lanky six-foot-10-inch, 20-year-old frame. His teammates on the 76ers are within arm’s reach, laughing and joking as they go through a pregame practice in gray t-shirts and blue shorts at the Wells Fargo Center.
Simmons wants to be out there with them, but for the moment he can only hover at the edge of the court and stare at the gleaming maple floor and the UFO-size Sixers logo. Pockets of fans who show up early for this mid-December matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers start to notice him standing there — the savior in the flesh. Ben. Ben. Hey, Simmons! Bennnn! He turns and walks down a tunnel to the locker room, frustrated, injured, alone. Read more »
Sixers center Joel Embiid congratulates Robert Covington, mid-interview, for his game winning basket | John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports
Perhaps the most jarring aspect of the Sixers recent winning ways — which was extended to an 8-2 stretch of play after last night’s 93-92 victory over the visiting Portland Trailblazers — is the confidence the team has inspired from fans late in close games.
Defined over the last few years by their complete inability to execute down the stretch, the Sixers have flipped that script entirely over the last few weeks. As Kevin Pelton of ESPN pointed out last night, the Sixers went 4-22 in games decided by five or fewer points from October 2015 to December 29th, 2016. They’ve won five of their past six such contests since.
“Our guys, to their credit, they’re feeling good about themselves. They’re winning here at home, and we found a way to, again, win ugly,” head coach Brett Brown said after the game. “I think you have to give our guys, without Joel (Embiid), a lot of credit, a lot of credit, to be able to find a way to win at home under the circumstances we were in.”
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According to Chris Haynes of ESPN, Ben Simmons debut could still be a month away | Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
According to Chris Haynes of ESPN, 76ers rookie Ben Simmons could make his NBA debut after the All-Star break.
The 76ers will have off from February 16th through February 23rd for the league’s All-Star break, returning to play on Friday, February 24th against the Washington Wizards.
According to Haynes, Simmons’ debut could come some time “shortly after the All-Star break” and “near March”, although no specifics were provided outside of that.
While Haynes said Simmons missing the entire season because of his injury was still a possibility, he did also report that the foot had completely healed.
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The Sixers will take on Kemba Walker and the Charlotte Hornets tonight at the Wells Fargo Center | Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports
The Sixers will look to continue their winning ways tonight when they take on the visiting Charlotte Hornets at the Wells Fargo Center.
The Sixers are riding high, winners in four of their last five games, the most recent being a thrilling 98-97 victory over the New York Knicks, a game which saw the team finish on a 15-4 run, culminating in a basket by T.J. McConnell as time expired for the win.
The schedule gets significantly more difficult starting tonight, with the Charlotte Hornets (20-19) in town. The Hornets have been struggling of late, dropping five of their last six games, albeit against strong competition (Cavs, Thunder, Spurs, Rockets), and slowed down by injuries to Cody Zeller and Nicolas Batum, both of whom should be back tonight.
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Sixers center Joel Embiid celebrates with T.J. McConnell after McConnell’s game-winning shot gave the Sixers a 98-98 victory | Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
The Philadelphia 76ers continued their winning ways, defeating the New York Knicks 98-97 Wednesday night on a buzzer beater by T.J. McConnell.
The Sixers were in position to win the game after coming all the way back from a 10 point deficit with 2:29 remaining. The comeback was led by rookie center Joel Embiid, who scored 8 of his team-high 21 points in the final 2+ minutes of play, not to mention numerous defensive stops on the other end of the court fueled by Embiid’s commanding presence.
Still, after Gerald Hendreson (12 points, 5-10 shooting) made a pair of free throws with 27.8 seconds remaining, the Knicks had the ball with the chance to extend their 1-point lead, but second year Latvian phenom Kristaps Porzingis missed a wide open three-point shot in the corner.
That set up a frantic final 5.8 seconds of play, with Gerald Henderson grabbing a floor board, eventually leading to T.J. McConnell’s baseline jumper as time expired to win the game.
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